The Three Sisters method involves three crops.
The Three Sisters method involves three crops.

Indigenous Farming: The Three Sisters

Grow your knowledge of an agriculture tradition!

Three little pigs. Three musketeers. Three amigos. A famous saying goes, “Good things come in threes.” The first people living in North America knew that groups of three can be good for plants too. They created a planting strategy called the Three Sisters!

The Three Sisters planting has been practiced by North America’s people for thousands of years. It involves growing certain plant species together in the same space. Although many different kinds of plants can benefit from this type of planting, the Indigenous people of North America discovered that three particular vegetables grow very well together.

Those vegetables are corn, beans, and squash. Each of these foods has health benefits. Corn is a source of . Beans are rich in . Squash has vitamins and minerals. The crops can be dried and used for food year round. And the people learned that the crops grow very well together. In fact, they found that plants even help each other grow.

For example, pole beans grow upward, but they don’t have strong vines. The plants need a pole or other structure to wrap around and climb. Corn, on the other hand, grows tall, stiff stalks. By planting corn with the beans, the bean plants have support to grow upward.

The beans help too. They fertilize the soil by adding nitrogen to it. Extra nitrogen in the soil boosts both the corn and the third vegetable: squash.

Unlike corn or beans, squash plants stay low to the ground. They spread out and grow large leaves. These leaves act like umbrellas, covering the soil. This blocks sunlight, keeping the soil cool and wet. The squash leaves also help stop weeds from growing.

But the Three Sisters isn’t just a smart planting method to put more food on the table. For many Indigenous people, the trio is an important piece of culture. This is especially true for the Haudenosaunee people.

The Haudenosaunee people have religious beliefs about the Three Sisters. They believe three sister spirits protect the corn, beans, and squash. These spirits are called the De-o-ha-ko, which means “the ones who support us.”

Today, people still plant using the Three Sisters method. It is a tradition that people will continue to pass down to the next generation of farmers.

Updated November 21, 2023, 5:03 P.M. (ET)
By Hannah Marcum

Indigenous Farming: The Three Sisters

Grow your knowledge of an agriculture tradition!

The Three Sisters method involves three crops.
The Three Sisters method involves three crops.

Three little pigs. Three musketeers. Three amigos. A famous saying goes, “Good things come in threes.” The first people living in North America knew that groups of three can be good for plants too. They created a planting strategy called the Three Sisters!

The Three Sisters planting has been practiced by North America’s people for thousands of years. It involves growing certain plant species together in the same space. Although many different kinds of plants can benefit from this type of planting, the Indigenous people of North America discovered that three particular vegetables grow very well together.

Those vegetables are corn, beans, and squash. Each of these foods has health benefits. Corn is a source of . Beans are rich in . Squash has vitamins and minerals. The crops can be dried and used for food year round. And the people learned that the crops grow very well together. In fact, they found that plants even help each other grow.

For example, pole beans grow upward, but they don’t have strong vines. The plants need a pole or other structure to wrap around and climb. Corn, on the other hand, grows tall, stiff stalks. By planting corn with the beans, the bean plants have support to grow upward.

The beans help too. They fertilize the soil by adding nitrogen to it. Extra nitrogen in the soil boosts both the corn and the third vegetable: squash.

Unlike corn or beans, squash plants stay low to the ground. They spread out and grow large leaves. These leaves act like umbrellas, covering the soil. This blocks sunlight, keeping the soil cool and wet. The squash leaves also help stop weeds from growing.

But the Three Sisters isn’t just a smart planting method to put more food on the table. For many Indigenous people, the trio is an important piece of culture. This is especially true for the Haudenosaunee people.

The Haudenosaunee people have religious beliefs about the Three Sisters. They believe three sister spirits protect the corn, beans, and squash. These spirits are called the De-o-ha-ko, which means “the ones who support us.”

Today, people still plant using the Three Sisters method. It is a tradition that people will continue to pass down to the next generation of farmers.

Updated November 21, 2023, 5:03 P.M. (ET)
By Hannah Marcum

Draw it AskRuss